Silence of the Shepherds

Silence of the Shepherds

New Oxford Notes
July-August 2017

Why is it that Catholic bishops seem to be plumping for Muslims? Why do they issue statements about Islam that are dishonest and misleading? Why do they appear to be so intent on protecting the image of Islam? If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you’re not alone. Given current events and the historical record of Islam’s aggressive campaigns against the Christian West, the rational thinker could be forgiven for believing that the leaders of the Christian world might just want to pay a bit more attention to contemporary anti-Christian violence — thousands of terror attacks, beheadings, stabbings, kidnappings, rapes, torching of churches and Christian-owned businesses — committed by Muslims, in the name of Islam.

Instead, most of the world’s Catholic bishops (with some heroic exceptions, such as Ignatius Joseph III Younan, patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church of Antioch, and Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Aleppo), when they’re not extolling the virtues of Islam as a “religion of peace,” can be found counseling their flocks against so-called Islamophobia — anti-Islam sentiment, bias, or violence — typically in the immediate aftermath of a Muslim-perpetrated act of terror or instance of anti-Christian persecution.

For example, in May, after Muslim militants in the Philippines burned down the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, murdered more than a hundred Catholics, and held a dozen others hostage, Bishop Edwin de la Peña y Angot of the Marawi prelature worried out loud that the ensuing anti-Muslim sentiments might damage interreligious dialogue. “Some of the natural biases that Christians have against Muslims will be stirred up again,” he said in an interview (Zenit, June 9). “Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process and these incidents can destroy the foundation that we have built.” About anti-Christian sentiments among Muslims, the bishop was silent.

While Christians in Muslim countries are being slaughtered, exiled, subjugated, or forced to convert in numbers never before seen, some U.S. bishops and those who work for them have actually moved to demonize priests and Catholic teachers who speak out against Islam — in many cases, for merely stating facts about anti-Christian persecution. They have accused those who point out such inconvenient truths of spreading hate.

For example, the Diocese of Orlando recently reprimanded sixth-grade teacher Mark Smythe of Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Ocala, Florida. His offense: He gave his students a handout that called Muhammad a “false prophet” who “couldn’t even write” and who “propagated his religion, not through miracles or persuasive words, but by military force” (Huffington Post, Apr. 20). The “controversial” reading assignment was an excerpt of an 1853 text written by St. John Bosco! As an aside, this particular incident only came to light because a mother of one of Smythe’s students submitted the Don Bosco reading assignment to Huffington Post’s “Documenting Hate” project, which the online media outlet launched to “track incidents of hate and bias” — a tactic right out of the Soviet playbook.

Even Pope Francis has said that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” and that “Muslim terrorism does not exist” (Address to Populist Movements, Feb. 16). Is it any wonder that bishops do little to protect the dwindling number of Christians who remain in the Middle East from Islamist violence and intimidation? Is it any wonder that, inspired by a Pope who denies the very existence of Muslim terrorism, bishops see no need to speak out against anti-Christian atrocities committed by Muslims? It is, of course, much easier to parrot the popular — and erroneous — politically correct views of their secular counterparts that Christians (and sometimes Jews) are actually the persecutors, that Christians are solely responsible for every last one of the historical conflicts between Islam and Christianity, and that Christians have directly or indirectly caused virtually every act of terrorism committed by Muslims. For example, when Syed Rizwan Farook massacred his Christian co-workers in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015, PC voice-boxes, acting on no evidence, accused some of Farook’s co-workers of anti-Muslim bias, which allegedly drove the Muslim Farook to stockpile weapons in his home and, with his pseudo-wife accomplice Tashfeen Malik, carry out his act of terror at an office Christmas party. Could the Devil himself have come up with a more ingenious plan to glorify Islam and vilify Christianity at one and the same time?

Amid the denials and missteps of Pope Francis and his band of Islam-apologist bishops, there happen to be plenty of Muslims — certainly not all — who apparently believe in and even support Muslim-sponsored terrorism. A November 2015 Pew Research Center poll showed that only 28 percent of Muslims in Pakistan had an unfavorable view of the Islamic State (ISIS). A Pew Research poll in 2013 showed that only 57 percent of Muslims worldwide disapproved of al-Qaeda, and only 51 percent disapproved of the Taliban. Few would quibble with the idea that ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are bona fide terrorist organizations that plot and execute acts of terror in the name of Islam, in order to advance the interests of Islam.

Currently, the most “effective” of these Muslim terrorist groups is ISIS. Make no mistake: This group not only calls itself Muslim (it’s the “Islamic” State, after all) but acts in the name of Islam (its goal is to restore the caliphate, an Islamic “state”) and promotes acts of terror in the name of Islam. Although ISIS is typically viewed in the West as a barbaric group seemingly resurrected from the Middle Ages, its slick propaganda — glossy magazines and a strong social-media presence — is surely a product of the 21st century. And if the actions and inactions of the Pope and bishops, along with much of the secular West, are any indication, the propaganda of ISIS is very, very effective. In other words, they all seem to assent to the falsifications of history presented in the Islamists’ mythologies.

Adam DeVille, professor at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, recently published a refreshingly candid opinion column in England’s excellent Catholic Herald (June 16). DeVille recognizes that in order to “defeat” ISIS, we’re going to need more than a military strategy. “A large part of the terrorists’ success lies in their skill at propaganda,” he notes. A highly successful part of the ISIS propaganda campaign is to convince potential recruits that Christians and their secular counterparts are an aggressive enemy that has been on a “crusade” against Islam since the seventh century. Muslims, Christians, and just about everyone else in this day and age are so uneducated — or miseducated — that most don’t have much difficulty falling for the false claims of ISIS. One suspects that Pope Francis himself believes that Christians have been on a “crusade” against Islam since the seventh century.

Well, it just ain’t so! The so-called Crusades were a series of defensive acts carried out by Christians to defend Christian lands and especially Christian shrines in the Holy Land against Muslim aggression. Consider pre-Crusade history: Not long after Muhammad died in 632, his followers ventured out of Arabia and conquered surrounding non-Muslim lands in the name of Islam. In a few decades, they had annexed two-thirds of what at the time was an important part of Christendom. They violently conquered virtually all of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain, until they were finally stopped at Tours in central France around 732. By the late ninth century, Muslim incursions had transformed the Mediterranean into an Islamic stronghold, having conquered the major islands (Sicily, Crete, Rhodes, Malta, and Cyprus), and Muslim pirates habitually raided the European coast for booty and slaves. All of this, according to the most authoritative Muslim chroniclers of the time (al-Waqidi, al-Baladhuri, al-Tabari, al-Maqrizi, et al.), was carried out because Islam commands Muslims to subjugate and humiliate non-Muslims. There was no Christian “aggression.” The Crusades were launched to drive out the aggressive Muslim invaders. “Muslim terrorism” existed in the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries just as it exists in the 21st, whether the current leaders of the Catholic Church are willing to recognize these historical realities or not.

DeVille says that the propagandists of ISIS — no fools, they — are exploiting the West’s ignorance about its own history as well as its penchant for Christian guilt “in order to achieve a sense of justification for its atrocities.” ISIS’s main English-language magazines, Dabiq and Rumiyah, have published aggressive attacks on Pope Francis, the Catholic Church, and other Christian leaders such as Tawadros II, the Coptic pope. These articles are riddled with myths about Christian history, culture, and theology, DeVille points out. The propagandists consistently assert, for example, that Christians have distorted God’s revelation to make Jesus appear divine and the doctrine of the Trinity plausible, that the Church falsely claims to be monotheistic, and even that Christian “crusaders” want to impose liberalism, secularism, atheism, feminism, homosexuality, and modern psychology on the whole world, including the Muslim world. So, wouldn’t it be nice, DeVille suggests, if instead of being apologists for Islam and warning the world against Islamophobia, Western governments and the Church could collaborate on demolishing these anti-Christian myths? “We have a moral responsibility to counter ISIS propaganda,” says DeVille, and he proposes three ways of doing so.

First, he says: Our leaders, especially Catholics, should point out that reputable scholarship (from such as Jonathan Riley-Smith, Thomas Madden, Rodney Stark and others) has clearly shown that the Crusades were defensive. They were also personal acts of penance and humiliation for the Crusaders themselves as sinners; spiritual acts of penitents seeking to dominate their own inner sinful tendencies; economic disasters for the Crusaders, who returned impoverished (if at all); and “ecumenical” endeavours to ensure the survival of Eastern Christianity, rather than the destruction of Islam. Second, every time ISIS or other Muslim propagandists condemn liberalism, feminism, homosexualism, modern psychology, and other 21st-century cultural agendas, the Church ought to clarify that Christianity — and especially the Catholic Church — stands firmly against “the errors and excesses of these movements, while recognising their limited virtues.”

And third, says DeVille, Catholic theologians who understand the fourth-century debates regarding the doctrine of the Holy Trinity need to debunk ISIS propaganda that asserts that Trinitarian theology is what it repeatedly calls “polytheistic paganism.”

Eureka! What a great idea, at least as a starting point, because Muslim propaganda extends far beyond the bounds of ISIS. The problem is this: Those who have courageously taken up the task of setting straight the historical record about Christian-Muslim conflicts, the teachings and lifestyle of Muhammad, the dictates of Sharia law, Muslims’ false claims about the Crusades, and the anti-Jewish and anti-Christian teachings and instructions in the Koran are the ones who have been taken to task by the very Church and Western governments that DeVille is calling on to take action. The Christian apologists thus far have been tarred as haters and hate-mongers simply for stating facts — not opinions, just facts — in their efforts to set the historical record straight.

Furthermore, before anyone in the Church or state can come out of the closet to debunk the propaganda canards of ISIS, the Church and the Western governments first have to admit they’ve been wrong all along, that Islam is not a “religion of peace” and that Christians were not the aggressors in the Middle East, North Africa, or Mediterranean Europe. And who in the Church will do that?

Really and truly, it must start with the Pope and his brother bishops. If the Church won’t speak out, we can hardly expect the liberal governments of Western Europe to speak out. The European Union project, after all, has committed itself to cleaving all aspects of Judeo-Christian culture from 21st-century European “culture.” As DeVille points out, ISIS is capitalizing on the West’s ignorance of its own history. At the very least, Pope Francis and his brother bishops should allow competent theologians and historians to set about honestly defending the faith against Muslim mythology, without reprimanding them for being messengers of Christian truth.

There is one man in particular who is well educated and who has clearly and effectively spoken out against Islam and Muslim terrorism, one well-respected man who has, on a number of occasions, clarified — accurately — the nature of historical Muslim-Christian conflicts and the difficulties Muslims pose for Christians, especially European Christians, in the 21st century. That man is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. It is instructive to note, writes DeVille in his Herald column, that whereas “ISIS hates Pope Francis because it perceives him as theologically wishy-washy…they grudgingly respect Benedict XVI precisely for his strong and blunt talk at Regensburg.”

Why not begin efforts with a re-reading of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture (2006)? It would surely inspire the efforts DeVille wisely proposes. Will his proposed efforts work, he asks? “It is impossible to say in the abstract before any of it is tried,” DeVille writes. “But it behooves us, not only for our own self-defence, but perhaps especially for our self-respect, not to allow Catholic (and more generally Western) intellectual history to be so tendentiously traduced by terrorists while Catholics either make no reply, or proffer one so pitiful in its tepidity and fatuity that it only invites more, and greater, attacks.”

From the Regensburg Lecture

I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on — perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara — by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam….

The emperor touches on the theme of the holy war…. He addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God,” he says, “is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body…. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….”

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. — Pope Benedict XVI

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